And they say romance writers are sentimental. They have nothing on Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey.
That was my overall reaction to bing watching on Downton Abbey, season 6, via my review copy over the weekend. You can do the same, as the DVD releases today, even though PBS just aired part four on Sunday night.
I’ve stuck with the show through thick and thin, though I nearly quit after Anna’s rape that somehow became all about her husband instead of her. Yet, I couldn’t completely let the show go. Why? Because as any good watcher of a soap opera does, I grew attached to the characters. Oh, not all of them. Mary could die horribly, drawn and quartered, and I wouldn’t care. (I’m also lukewarm about Daisy, Denker and Spratt.)
Oh, but there’s Edith, the Jan Brady of the Crawley clan, who has tried mightily to find happiness and keeps falling short. My one requirement for this season was “Edith gets a happy ending.”
There’s also Carson and Mrs. Hughes, who are lovely, Anna, Baxter, Mrs. Patmore, Molesley, the Countess, and, of course, the Dowager Duchess/Grandmama, who gets all the best lines.
MAJOR SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT
Let’s just say that by the last shot of the Abbey at the end of the last episode, it felt like Julian Fellowes was channelling his inner Oprah:
“You get a happy ending! And you get a happy ending! And you get a happy ending!”
Way back when, when I first started watching Downton, what I enjoyed most was watching hidebound people being dragged into a suddenly modern world. The episodes involving the typewriter and the telephone were not only funny but a glimpse into how technology shaped the last 100 years.
Of course, while the show on the surface is about the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the people in England and has ambitions about being a serious show, it’s not that at all. It’s a melodrama aka a soap opera as we say here in the states.
That was never more evident in the whole plot about Matthew’s paralysis that was somehow magically cured, or in the way his fiancee died so textbook tragically, or how his prospective father-in-law left him a ton of money that somehow magically cured the Crawleys’ money ills. Or the Bates’ being arrested, the husband one season, the wife the next.
And yet, it was sometimes about something more. The Daughters Crawley wanted to be more than they were supposed to be, starting with the doomed Sybil’s interest in social work, to Edith’s journalism career, to Mary’s insistence on having a say in running the estate the last couple of seasons.
Taking its cue from that focus, season 6 is clearly about the women. Mary, Edith, Mrs. Hughes, Anna Bates, the Countess, the Dowager Countess, Isobel Crawley, even Daisy and Mrs. Patmore, all had turns for a focus. Season 6 is all about taking our cast and letting them figuratively ride off into the sunset.
Yes, Edith gets her happy ending. More, she has a Cinderella ending, unexpectedly landing a prince of her own in one of Fellowes patented soap opera twists. (Marquess not prince but we won’t quibble.) What about the secretly emotional Mary? She gets what she darn well deserves in more ways than one, landing a man who everyone believes is too good for her, even if he has no money. Anna receives what she long for most in her marriage. Fellowes even sprinkles fairy dust on Isobel’s romantic life!
Yes, season 6 is sappy and plot twists come out of nowhere but it’s enjoyable as heck, never more so than when Edith finally tells Mary off, or when Gwen the former maid comes back married to a successful man and with a career of her own, or when Neville Chamberlin shows up as a pawn in a tug of war between the Countess and Dowager Countess over who should run the village hospital. (Chamberlin has some of the season’s the best lines about not wanting to get involved in the middle of a dispute.)
I could take or leave Mary and Henry Talbot but Michelle Dockery killed it in the next to last episode with her grief and fear about falling in love again. Props to you, my lady. It’s not easy to make people care about Mary but you managed.
Should the Crawley clan have paid more of a price for being the symbols of an age that divided people strictly by class and prevented those on the bottom rung from being anything but servants or working poor? Probably. In the real world, the Crawleys and their grand estates have mostly faded away.
But in the television world, where we love our glorious sets, and costumes (Mary and Miss Fisher seem to have the same fashion designer) and our melodrama, we can’t help wanting them to end well. Even Molesley and even the sarcastic and sometimes unfeeling Thomas Barrow.
Thank you, Julian Fellowes, it’s been a lovely world to visit.